Katie Ribbens — Staff Writer
Every 80 minutes, a veteran commits suicide. The nonprofit Partners for Patriots in Anthon, Iowa is striving to put a dent in this statistic. They obtain, train, and pair service dogs with disabled veterans, most of whom are locked in a daily battle against PTSD.
Cindy Brodie, director and lead trainer for Partners for Patriots, works from dawn to dusk every day. Hers is not glorified work. She spends her time training dogs and cleaning kennels,but it means everything to her.
“My life consists of these dogs. I mean, I go to bed thinking about them and I wake up thinking about them,” Brodie said. “I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
Partners for Patriots, founded by Brodie and her late husband in 2009, began with the rescue of a little beagle puppy by the name of River. Brodie’s husband, suffering from a mysterious chronic illness, descended into greater pain and deeper depression each day. But River buoyed his spirits. Her constancy evolved into a new role as caregiver.
Brodie, who had been training working dogs for 24 years, taught River to retrieve a phone for her husband in case of an emergency. When Brodie lost her mother to cancer, it was River who stayed by her side through the emotional turbulence. The grief prompted her to consider that she wanted to do something else—something more—with her gifts.
“What do we really need?” She asked her husband.
“Excuse me?” Her husband said.
“What do we really need? Because I’ve got an idea.”
But after talking it over, Brodie’s husband encouraged her pursuit of a new endeavor. Their familial ties to the military and firsthand knowledge of how dogs change lives pushed them to consider serving veterans.
After sacrificing their minds and bodies in a foreign country, many veterans find it hard to readjust back to their lives in the United States. One veteran needed over 40 surgeries after his time of service—but he still would’ve gone back to serve and go through it all over again. Veterans often can’t talk about the terrible things they were forced to do. How can they tell their spouse they had to kill an eight-year-old child who was carrying a bomb? Whispering the terrible words to their service dog, who won’t judge them and won’t tell anyone else, is opportunity for healing. The emotional support the dogs provide by their presence is enough to keep their veterans sane.
“Not one veteran that’s had our dogs, thank you Jesus, has committed suicide,” Brodie said. “Since they’ve had the dogs, they haven’t even thought about it.”
The dogs are also task-trained, meaning they meet the unique needs of each veteran. Sometimes they interrupt traumatic flashback episodes, sometimes they break episodes of self-harm, sometimes they help with retrieval or mobility—but most importantly they are always present. They are their patriot’s forever partner. As a trainer, Brodie carefully examines a dog’s strengths and molds them into the customized partner each veteran needs.
“Not every dog can do this,” Brodie said. The dog must have an inherent desire to work for its handler. But, more than that, it requires intuition: they have to know when they’re needed. Many times, these dogs act beyond their training in order to keep their veterans safe.
In order to train more dogs, Brodie pours all the funds she receives back into the program. By taking a pay cut, she can put out 122 dogs a year to the veterans who so desperately need them. Partners for Patriots relies on puppies donated by breeders or will adopt them from shelters—saving two lives at once. Volunteer puppy raisers care for the donated dogs for over a year until they are ready to enter advanced training.
Partners for Patriots also relies on volunteers for fundraising, awareness, and service work. Morningside College sends several students to volunteer at the nonprofit each year. Brodie believes Dordt students could meet a similar need.
“It’s gonna be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done,” Brodie said.
If given the opportunity—and the resources—Brodie would like to expand by adding West and East coast locations.
“I’m making less than I’ve made in my entire life. But I still wake up every morning loving what I’m doing.”